Residents to have their say on Townsend rail-trail plan

The Lowell Sun
By Damien Fisher

TOWNSEND -- Residents will get a chance to weigh in on the $4.3 million rail trail project next week when the Squannacook River Rail Trail Committee presents the findings of a feasibility study.

Committee member Steve Meehan said the committee will present a full report on a $20,000 study on June 12 at North Middlesex Regional High School to answer residents' questions.

Selectmen last night reviewed the progress made by the committee as an engineer hired by the committee laid out the plans.

Jen Shemowat, an engineer with Burlington-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, told selectmen that building a 3.7-mile rail trail connecting Townsend and Groton is within reach.

"The whole point of this study is to help the town determine what it wants to do next," Shemowat said.

Committee members said they want to enter into a 99-year lease with the MBTA, which owns the unused railroad line, and turn it into a trail for biking and walking.

The plan is to tear up the railroad ties to make 8- to 10 -foot paths by laying asphalt or gravel over the trail, Shemowat said. The trail goes about 1 mile into Groton under the current plans, Shemowat said.

John Hendrickson, vice president with Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, said a federal earmark intended for rail trails in Massachusetts could pay for most of the project.

"There's a $4 million earmark for this area," Hendrickson said.

Selectmen Chairman David Chenelle said he will not support the rail trail if there is any cost to the town associated with the construction and maintenance of the trail.

"We gave the green light to do this feasibility study," Chenelle said. "We're not going to pay any money."

The town has so far not paid anything for the feasibility study, according to Meehan.

The committee obtained a $20,000 grant from the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation to pay Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, Meehan said.

Chenelle also is concerned about liability to the town once the trail is constructed.

The Fay, Spofford & Thorndike report will be available starting today or tomorrow on